A/N: This one shot is unrelated to my multi-chapter story 'Do's and Don't's,' so you don't need to read that to understand this (although if you do want to give it a read I'd greatly appreciate it!). I've not given up on that in the slightest, in fact I've got a chapter in the works as I type this, this idea just came to me so I thought I'd write something else for a change. Hope you like it!
"I'm really glad we got to see Misty again, she's really great!" Max announced. The group had just crossed Mount Moon and separated from Misty, who was returning to Cerulean City, as they were headed for the Battle Frontier just off the outskirts. "I hope we get to see her again soon..." he trailed off, sounding a little dejected. May smiled.
"I'm sure we will, Max! I'm really grateful to her for looking out for you when you guys got separated. She really is a lovely girl."
"Misty matured a lot in the time I knew her," Brock explained. "Having Togepi to care for really brought out a caring, sweet side of her." he mused.
"Aww, that's so cute!" May gushed.
Ash let out an 'mm' of contemplation. "Yeah, Togepi was meant to be mine, but I guess she did a better job taking care of it than I ever could."
Brock began to snigger. "It's okay, Ash, I'm pretty sure Togepi saw you as its dad anyway."
At this, Brock, May and Max burst into a symphony of laughter, whilst Ash let out a sound of surprise and blushed deeply.
"There's no way, Brock!" Ash cried.
"I don't know, Ash, it definitely saw Pikachu as a brother, and we all know who Pikachu's owner is..."
At this, Pikachu raised its arm happily. "Pikapi!"
Ash scowled at the electric mouse resting happily on his shoulder. "Thanks for the help, Pikachu..."
"Anyway!" Max cut in. "Misty gave me some great advice, she's very smart. It's unusual for someone to be smart and pretty, but she really is." Although he spoke in an entirely intellectual manner without a hint of emotion, May raised her eyebrows.
"I think someone has a little crush on someone!" she said, teasingly. Max reflected Ash's actions from earlier, when Brock had accused him of being Togepi's father.
"Don't be silly May! I mean yeah, she's very pretty and smart and kind and brave..."
Max trailed off, sighing contently. May smiled at him, knowingly.
Ash let out a snort. "I wouldn't get your hopes up Max, she once said she wouldn't date me because I was too much of a 'little kid,' so I don't think you've got much chance."
May's ears perked up. "Hang on, you asked Misty out?!"
Brock had already heard this story from Tracey, but rather than correcting May, he simply stood back and watched Ash squirm, a knowing smile on his face.
"N-n-n-no!" Ash exclaimed. "This guy called Danny in the Orange Islands thought we were a couple, so Misty corrected him, that's all!"
"From what I've heard from Brock, a lot of people thought you were a couple," May said with a smirk. Ash glared at her, so she quickly moved on. "Anyway, Max is more mature and smart than you; he might be in with a chance!"
Although May was only joking, after all, Misty was fourteen and Max was only nine, Max's face lit up.
"You really think so May? Maybe if I run back I can catch her and ask her..."
Max's words, for reasons Ash wasn't quite sure of, made Ash feel like a fire had ignited inside of him; his face burned, his stomach was tight and he felt like he was struggling to breath.
"There's no way, Max," he growled. Brock looked at him, contemplating. Surely Ash wasn't jealous..?
Max came to an abrupt stop, causing to rest of the group to stop too, and folded his arms, giving Ash a competitive smirk.
"Fine then, Ash, we'll both run back and ask Misty who she'd rather date; me or you."
Ash allowed his competitive streak to get the better of him. "Fine, you're on!"
As Ash and Max began to run off into the distance in the direction they'd just come from, Pikachu, May and Brock stared after them, confused and slightly entertained.
"Are they really doing this?" May asked, with a bemused blink in their wake. Brock chuckled to himself.
"Are you kidding? Put competition and Misty together and Ash'll do anything!"
Misty was walking along the path to Cerulean City, chatting to her Azurill constantly, in the hope it would deter the feeling of sadness that had begun to cloak her. She'd really enjoyed seeing Ash and Brock for the past few days, but the anxiety of separation reappeared almost instantly; she was incredibly envious of May and Max for getting to travel with them. She sighed heavily; as much as she enjoyed being a gym leader, and she was a very talented one, she really did miss travelling. She really missed being with Ash, too... And Brock, of course, she quickly added.
"I wonder when I'll see Ash again," Misty said, more to herself than Azurill. Suddenly, in the distance behind her, Misty could hear someone yelling her name. She furrowed her brow, stopped walking and turned to the direction of the source. She could see two figures running toward her frantically. Slightly alarmed, she considered running from them until she realised it was Ash and Max.
"What's up with you two?" Misty asked, having run up to meet them. For a few minutes, Ash and Max couldn't respond, as they were keeled over with exhaustion, panting frantically.
"M-Misty," Ash gasped, still bent over and grabbing his knees in recovery. "Who'd you rather date, Max or me?"
Misty raised her eyebrows, failing to understand what had unfolded to lead them to this. The boys, now recovered, were staring at her desperately. Max's eyes held true nervousness, and she could tell by his hands fumbling together that this meant a lot to him. She glanced over to Ash, who was staring at her in a way she'd never seen before. His eyes were dark and serious, and his expression was cold. Misty felt a shiver down her spine, and was now at a loss as to what to say. She took a deep breath.
"Well, I guess I'd have to say Max."
She let her eyes drop to the ground, avoiding their reactions. Ash let out a disappointed sigh, his face solemn. Max literally jumped with joy, kissed Misty's hand then showered her with words of appreciation. With that, he skipped back off from where he came, back to Brock and May, to tell them the good news.
Misty didn't dare look at Ash. She kept her eyes focused on the floor, causing her Azurill to look up at her from the ground, worriedly.
"I guess I better go," Ash said, dejectedly, then turned around as he felt a force stop him; Misty grabbing his wrist.
"Wait," she said, the desperation seeping through her words. Ash turned to look at her, his eyes now reflecting the expression Max had shown before she'd given her answer. "I... I only said Max because I couldn't disappoint the little guy. We became pretty good friends today."
Ash scoffed, pulling his wrist from her grasp. "I think he thinks a little more than that."
Misty smiled softly. "He's only a little kid, Ash. It's just puppy love; we found we have more in common than we thought and he's just appreciative that I helped him, that's all."
Ash nodded, feeling relatively content until Misty spoke up again. "Why does it matter to you, anyway?"
He looked up, her expression was expectant. He knew she'd never let this go.
"I don't know," he mumbled. He was partially telling the truth; he didn't quite understand why the idea of someone else liking Misty provoked so much anger in him. At first he thought he was just being protective of his friend, but when Brock and Max had discussed Drew liking May, Ash had simply been happy for them. So why was it different with Misty? He looked at her, examining her, searching deeply for the answer.
"Ash?" Misty asked, slightly concerned by the serious look Ash was giving her.
"I'll be honest, Mist. I don't know why it bothers me so much, but it does. And it confuses me. I guess..." he trailed off, and mumbled the final few words. "I guess I just don't like the idea of you being with someone."
"Someone, or Max?" Misty asked, mild amusement playing on her features. Ash scowled.
"No, not Max, I know he's only nine; you'd be really creepy if you went out with him. I meant anyone."
"Anyone... including you?" Misty said tentatively. At this, Ash did his usual routine of over-the-top denial and frantic backtracking.
"No way! Me and you?! Gross!"
"Ash," Misty said firmly. Ash sighed; they weren't kids anymore. When did things get so complex? He knew he had to face up to this, whether he liked it or not. Did the idea of him being with Misty gain the same reaction as her being with someone else? He imagined her with Rudy, which enticed the same blood boiling reaction it had when they'd first met him. Then he imagined himself with her. That was... different. Sure, he felt funny still, but in a different way. His face, instead of burning, flushed softly, the tight knot in his stomach was replaced by a flurry of Butterfree and his inability to breathe was, quite simply, because she took his breath away. Oh no, what was this feeling?!
Bravely, Ash looked up at Misty. "No, not including me."
With those four words, something drastic shifted between the two friends, and both could sense it. It was unexplainable to either of them; a feeling that had always been there was suddenly uncovered and they were very aware of that fact. There was no turning back now.
"Oh," was all Misty could murmur. She never thought the moment would come. She reflected Ash's honesty by stating, "I get the same feeling about you."
It wasn't a huge, romantic confession or a declaration of love like in the romantic movies Misty loved to watch, but for them, a wordless, mutual understanding of affection was enough for Ash and Misty.
"There you are!" Brock called. May, Max and Brock had begun to wonder what had delayed Ash's return and gone searching for him. Ash couldn't help but groan. The group approached the pair who were blushing madly at this point, and Brock couldn't help but kick himself mentally, sensing he'd intruded on something. Ash sighed, knowing the moment was gone. For now.
"I'll call you as soon as we get there," he said to Misty.
She smiled softly. "Okay."
As the group bid their second farewell of the day to Misty, they all turned round to head off back from where they came. After a few seconds of walking, Ash told them to carry on and he'd catch up. Of course, May and Brock, sharing a knowing look, stopped and watched as Ash ran toward Misty. He grabbed her hand, spun her round and placed a light kiss to her cheek. Ash smiled at her shyly and she touched her cheek in ecstatic disbelief. Brock wolf-whistled in the background, earning a slap on the arm from May and glares from Ash and Misty.
"He's never going to let us live this down," Misty said, chuckling awkwardly.
"At least you can escape to the gym! I've got to deal with him all the time..."
Misty smiled softly, and after a moment of comfortable silence she said, "You better get back."
She placed a tender kiss to his cheek. Smiling broadly at her, Ash then headed back to his friends. He was stopped by her words.
"Oh, and Ash?" he turned to look at her. "I'll wait for you."
Ash furrowed his brow, and was about to question her but she'd already turned around and was heading back in the direction of Cerulean. Ash shrugged.
He'd figure it out one day.